More out of luck than design, we’ve fortuitously seen (in the wild) 4 out of the 5 largest birds of Australia on our trip so far; the Brolga, Jabiru, Emu, and Bustard. But the most solitary and elusive of them all, the Southern Cassowary (Casuarius Casuarius Johnson), was still yet to be spotted. And with that realisation, suddenly spawned a new side-objective with our impending visit to various parts of Far North Queensland (FNQ).
The story starts out by spending our first week in the Atherton Tableland region (Cassowaries are said to live there), then afterwards ….several days between Cairns, Daintree, Cape Tribulation and Cooktown (Cassowaries frequent some of these places too) in the many rainforests throughout these areas. And whilst traveling throughout these heavy rainforested parts, you are constantly reminded by the many Cassowary road warning / beware signs erected indicating we were in prime Casuarius territory.
After a week or so doing various trips, no sign, not even a hint of a Cassowary was made. Of course, this only made our new objective with the boys the more desirable. We made the effort to speak to several locals along our many trips in these areas in an effort to find out about any recent sightings and possibly where. However, everyone that we spoke with had not seen or known of a sighting for some months, and most said …
“They are definitely around but not in numbers like they use to be …you have to be lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to see a Cassowary these days“.
Yep …that figures about right …how often have we all heard these sort of words for many different things in life – the elusive southern Cassowary obviously no different. Right place, right time and all that stuff.
A couple of weeks in and close to 1600kms around FNQ, we had failed to see any sign of them whilst visiting many sights, waterfalls, rainforests, and national parks. In doing further research online about recent sightings, we came across a comment from someone who posted on Birdlife Australia of a recent sighting at a place south of Cairns at the Etty Bay Caravan park. So we do some more research in that region and, low and behold, Celia found whilst looking through Wikicamps app of a recent comment by a camper having seen an adult male Cassowary only a few days earlier. As we were soon to head south, we decide to adjust our route and swing by Etty Bay for a day at least and try our luck there.
Not far from Etty Bay is the township of Innisfail, ironically labelled as the centre of the Cassowary Coast or the Cassowary corridor. As we approach town, it was just after 1pm and heavy rain was falling and we decide to stop for fuel.
Back on the road and a dozen kilometres south of Innisfail is the Etty Bay turnoff in the small town of Mourilyan. We immediately turn east head towards a small mountain rainforest pass that guards Etty Bay. The heavy rain had subsided by this time but was still showery and in the foot of the Etty bay hills was misty. We were winding up the small pass and notice a couple of isolated homes next to sugarcane farms on the side of the road, and standing in the yard of the last house just before the national park entrance, Aidan blurts out from the back seat, “CASSOWARY“. Immediately, Celia and I think it’s a road sign or something we’ve missed – not a real sighting. We qualify him and he insists he got a glimpse of one. We continue to ascend, over the crest, and then start the decent where standing in the middle of the wet road was a baby Cassowary. We slow right down as the bird deliberately walks straight towards us, and we end up coming to a complete stop. (There was was no other traffic either, luckily). Celia grabs her iPhone and winds down her window to film the juvenile. We stay in the car as the young Cassowary, nonplussed, walks up to within a few inches of the front of the D4 then decides to veer around to the left of the car. As it does, two more Juveniles suddenly appear out of the forest next to the car on the passenger side all of which then start making an unusual and loud shrieking call.
Celia continues filming them for another 30secs all the while expecting an adult Cassowary to emerge but doesn’t, a few more moments on we watch the young 3 Cassowaries disappear back into the dense forrest, and they’re gone. Click here to watch a short video of this encounter.
We resume the descent through the mist and a few minutes later emerge out from under the rainforest canopy at the small 700M beach on Etty Bay. There is not much here – only a couple of houses, a small old surf club, a cafe/caravan park & office – that’s about it. As we book into the caravan park it starts to steadily rain again – a common precipitous occurrence in these parts with an yearly monthly average rainfall of 11.5 inches. We nab the 2nd last available spot that can accommodate our size van in the tiny caravan park and back the T3 in – not a large site but will do for the night. When un-hitching and setting up the van, we were mobbed by mosquitoes – in fact, the worst example of mozzies I have ever encountered that I can recall, including any of my trip years ago to Nepal. There were literally dozens of mozzies circling you at any one given moment and quickly the DEET came out for some respite. The only problem was the rain – so the DEET wouldn’t stay on properly, if at all, so we all got extensively bitten and for a week or two later would be often reminded by the experience.
After a rushed setup we could only sit in the van with the door shut, scratch our newly acquired mozzie bites, and wait out the rain to ease or better still, stop. About an hour or so it did just that. During this period, we had the boys get into a little required school work, when all of a sudden – just like earlier in the day, Aidan belts again the word “CASSOWARY“. There outside our van along the beach front was a large adult male casually walking around the base of large palm trees looking for the red berries that drop to the ground. We grab the camera and all get out, don some more DEET and head over to what we feel is a safe distance from the bird.
Its immediately apparent this Cassowary is fairly used to humans and has little interest in our presence and has eyes only in finding red berries. As we were ourselves earlier, we notice the Cassowary is being hounded by mosquitoes and many of the images we took of the bird also feature several mozzies in them too. Soon enough several more people crowd around the bird all with cameras, iPhones, iPads and movie cameras in hand – this guy was like a rock star, and like us, everyone else wanted a piece of the rare action. We all followed him from a distance like paparazzi vying for that one cool shot consciously trying not to upset him. He (we think it was a male) was not particularly straightforward to shoot stills with good detail, he constantly moved and often with sharp jerking movements making it difficult to properly manually focus.
Here is a small photographic montage of him…
Well, there you have it. Australia’s top 5 largest birds we have all now seen in the wild on this trip – an achievement or objective we never dreamt of before setting off last Aug, but here we are. It’s a pity I don’t have worthy images of all 5, perhaps another objective for another day?
Aidan, Lochie, Geoff & Celia